You are developing a server-side enterprise application. It must support a variety of different clients including desktop browsers, mobile browsers and native mobile applications. The application might also expose an API for 3rd parties to consume. It might also integrate with other applications via either web services or a message broker. The application handles requests (HTTP requests and messages) by executing business logic; accessing a database; exchanging messages with other systems; and returning a HTML/JSON/XML response. There are logical components corresponding to different functional areas of the application.

Let’s imagine that you are building an e-commerce application that takes orders from customers, verifies inventory and available credit, and ships them. The application consists of several components including the StoreFrontUI, which implements the user interface, along with some backend services for checking credit, maintaining inventory and shipping orders.

Benefits

This solution has a number of benefits:

  • Each microservice is relatively small
    • Easier for a developer to understand
    • The IDE is faster making developers more productive
    • The application starts faster, which makes developers more productive, and speeds up deployments
  • Each service can be deployed independently of other services – easier to deploy new versions of services frequently
  • Easier to scale development. It enables you to organize the development effort around multiple teams. Each (two pizza) team is owns and is responsible for one or more single service. Each team can develop, deploy and scale their services independently of all of the other teams.
  • Improved fault isolation. For example, if there is a memory leak in one service then only that service will be affected. The other services will continue to handle requests. In comparison, one misbehaving component of a monolithic architecture can bring down the entire system.
  • Each service can be developed and deployed independently
  • Eliminates any long-term commitment to a technology stack. When developing a new service you can pick a new technology stack. Similarly, when making major changes to an existing service you can rewrite it using a new technology stack.

Drawbacks

This solution has a number of drawbacks:

  • Developers must deal with the additional complexity of creating a distributed system.
    • Developer tools/IDEs are oriented on building monolithic applications and don’t provide explicit support for developing distributed applications.
    • Testing is more difficult
    • Developers must implement the inter-service communication mechanism.
    • Implementing use cases that span multiple services without using distributed transactions is difficult
    • Implementing use cases that span multiple services requires careful coordination between the teams
  • Deployment complexity. In production, there is also the operational complexity of deploying and managing a system comprised of many different service types.
  • Increased memory consumption. The microservice architecture replaces N monolithic application instances with NxM services instances. If each service runs in its own JVM (or equivalent), which is usually necessary to isolate the instances, then there is the overhead of M times as many JVM runtimes. Moreover, if each service runs on its own VM (e.g. EC2 instance), as is the case at Netflix, the overhead is even higher.

When to use the microservice architecture?

One challenge with using this approach is deciding when it makes sense to use it. When developing the first version of an application, you often do not have the problems that this approach solves. Moreover, using an elaborate, distributed architecture will slow down development. This can be a major problem for startups whose biggest challenge is often how to rapidly evolve the business model and accompanying application. Using Y-axis splits might make it much more difficult to iterate rapidly. Later on, however, when the challenge is how to scale and you need to use functional decomposition, the tangled dependencies might make it difficult to decompose your monolithic application into a set of services.

How to decompose the application into services?

Another challenge is deciding how to partition the system into microservices. This is very much an art, but there are a number of strategies that can help:

  • Decompose by business capability and define services corresponding to business capabilities.
  • Decompose by domain-driven design subdomain.
  • Decompose by verb or use case and define services that are responsible for particular actions. e.g. a Shipping Service that’s responsible for shipping complete orders.
  • Decompose by by nouns or resources by defining a service that is responsible for all operations on entities/resources of a given type. e.g. an Account Service that is responsible for managing user accounts.

Ideally, each service should have only a small set of responsibilities. (Uncle) Bob Martin talks about designing classes using the Single Responsibility Principle (SRP). The SRP defines a responsibility of a class as a reason to change, and states that a class should only have one reason to change. It make sense to apply the SRP to service design as well.

Another analogy that helps with service design is the design of Unix utilities. Unix provides a large number of utilities such as grep, cat and find. Each utility does exactly one thing, often exceptionally well, and can be combined with other utilities using a shell script to perform complex tasks.

How to maintain data consistency?

In order to ensure loose coupling, each service has its own database. Maintaining data consistency between services is a challenge because 2 phase-commit/distributed transactions is not an option for many applications. An application must instead use an Event-Driven architecture. A service publishes an event when it’s data changes. Other services consume that event and update their data. There are several ways of reliably updating data and publishing events including Event Sourcing and Transaction Log Tailing.

How to implement queries?

Another challenge is implementing queries that need to retrieve data owned by multiple services. A common solution is to use Command Query Responsibility Segregation and maintain one or more materialized views that are kept up to date by subscribing to the stream of events published when data changes.

 

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